It’s no secret that whether it comes to college athletics, political lobbying representation, or federal funding, HBCU’s have long fallen behind predominantly white institutions. Consider the fact that of the dozens of colleges and universities to host presidential debates, only an extremely small handful have been HBCU’s. After receiving MTV’s Leaders for Change Grant, organizer Alyssa Canty is hoping to change that.
Even though Canty is an alumnus of North Carolina A&T State University, she’s been working to get students from other North Carolina schools like Fayetteville State, NC Central, St. Augustine’s and Shaw universities to participate in local elections.There are hundreds of thousands of students at HBCUs across the US, while Canty notes that there are a lot of issues preventing students from engaging on campus, the primary culprit in her eyes is gerrymandering.
“North Carolina A&T State University is the biggest HBCU in the United States, and their campus is split in half [by a district line],” she explained. “It’s not just their campus, but [the line runs through] an actual resident hall. So, every time you come to campus in the fall, you might have to re-register to vote.”
Another example of the political challenge gerrymandering creates for HBCU’s can be observed at the nation’s first HBCU, Cheyney University in Pennsylvania. At Cheyney half of the campus is located in Delaware County and the other half in Chester County. While Delaware county is reliably middle class, an overwhelmingly large portion of Chester County is struggling economically.
Canty is currently using the Leaders for Change Grant, to encourage students onNorth Carolina’s HBCU campuses to participate in the political process on both the national and local level. Even before receiving the grant Canty was the Campus Outreach Coordinator for Common Cause North Carolina, an organization aiming to improve voting access as well championing a fair and equitable election process. According to Canty, one of the best ways to circumvent these kinds of obstacles it to really push early voting and an understanding of voter ID laws.
“We were able to help half [of NCA&T’s campus] meet the state’s requirements in order for their student IDs to be accepted at the polls. That was really exciting,” said Canty. “We’re also working with other campuses to make sure that they can meet the requirements. We have until this November to try to get the other campuses on board. It’s challenging because there are campuses that don’t have funding to implement a new process for creating student IDs.”
The 30-year-old Aggie (nickname for NCAT students), organizer explained that navigating an understandably jaded voting base is the biggest hurdle. After Donald Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 election by millions of votes only to still become president, a lot of people felt like their votes meant nothing. Canty acknowledges that frustration, but insists that students stay engaged on the local level.
“When it comes to local elections, even statewide elections, [elected officials] will be making decisions that will affect every little thing you do. If your campus has extended library hours, that’s controlled by the state budget and the state governing board for the university system. When it comes to potholes or construction sites on campus, all of that is again controlled by the state,” she told MTV. “If we truly want our HBCUs to be better, to have the same state-of-the-art facilities that predominantly white schools have, then we have to make sure our voices are heard and that we are seen as a powerful unit.”
Other campus voting resources: